Disabled people have to apply for 60% more jobs than non-disabled people before finding one

‘I had to apply for over 250 jobs before I was offered one. The interviewer would go cold when I said I was visually impaired,’ 24-year-old Lauren Pitt tells The Independent

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 28 September 2017 00:10 BST
It took Lauren Pitt, who is visually impaired, nine months to get into work, during which she applied for 250 roles, which led to just four telephone interviews and three face-to-face interviews
It took Lauren Pitt, who is visually impaired, nine months to get into work, during which she applied for 250 roles, which led to just four telephone interviews and three face-to-face interviews

Disabled people need to apply for 60 per cent more jobs than non-disabled jobseekers before they find work, new research shows.

An Opinium survey of 2,000 disabled people also found that more than half (51 per cent) of applications from disabled people result in an interview, compared with 69 per cent for non-disabled applicants.

The findings, commissioned by disability charity Scope, have prompted warnings that disabled people are being “shut out of the jobs market”.

Recent government figures show there are one million disabled people in the UK who want to and are able to work but are currently not employed.

The latest findings show that more than a third (37 per cent) of disabled people who don’t feel confident about getting a job believe employers won’t hire them because of their impairment or condition.

Two in five unemployed disabled people who are looking for a job don’t feel confident about their chances of finding one in the next six months, with more than a quarter (27 per cent) of those believing they are less likely to be hired than a non-disabled candidate.

As a result, more than half of disabled people have applied for jobs they know they are overqualified for, with one in three of those saying they did so because they felt their disability makes them a less attractive candidate than non-disabled applicants.

One disabled person who struggled to find work is Lauren Pitt, 24, who is registered blind after losing most of her sight aged 13 due to a genetic condition. As a graduate with three A-levels, she didn’t expect finding a job would be too difficult.

But it took her nine months to get into work, during which she applied for 250 roles, which led to just four telephone interviews and three face-to-face interviews.

“I got nine GCSEs, three A-levels, a BA Honours degree in applied biology, for which I got a 2:1. I’d also done a lot of public speaking and done youth work volunteering, so I didn’t think it would be too difficult to get a job,” Ms Pitt told The Independent.

“But I started applying, and I just kept getting turned down. People would ask me for telephone interviews and then after I said I was visually impaired, nothing would come of it. I applied for over 250 jobs, and got four phone interviews and three face-to-face interviews.

“I was applying for fundraising, public speaking and admin work - jobs I knew I could do, but if and when I got to a face-to-face interview, it felt like employers weren’t looking at the skills that I had, but my disability, and asking ‘how would you be able to do this job?’

“My response was I know I can do it. Look at what I’ve done before, see the skills I have and take me for what I can offer you. But they would look at my disability rather than the person I was.

“I could tell they were judging me because I was disabled, because of the way - especially in telephone interviews – I would say I’m visually impaired if they hadn't read my CV, because I felt it was important that I was honest from the start, and the interviewer would often go a bit cold.

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword, because you want them to want you for who you are, so you tell them. But you’re almost like, should I have waited to meet them? It is a minefield knowing how to do it.”

Ms Pitt described becoming despondent and hopeless as more and more employers turned her down or didn’t get back to her.

“When I got to about 150 jobs, I just thought I don’t think I’m ever going to get anything. I kept going because I didn’t want to give up. But I just thought I was never going to get a job,” she said.

“I applied for loads every day. I became really down because I knew I could do it, and it’s just waiting for that one person to take a chance on you.

“I actually ended up getting an administration job with a social enterprise that I had to travel an hour and 40 minutes to get to, because that was the only job I got offered.”

The company Ms Pitt worked for was “amazing” at ensuring her needs were met, she said, with a Government scheme called Access to Work providing things like screen readers on her computer.

“I knew I could do it. At that interview, they obviously wanted to know how it was going to work with me being disabled, but they obviously recognised my skills,” she added.

“Lots of employers have no idea that Access to Work is out there. They think they’ll have to pay so they don’t take the chance."

Ms Pitt, who now works for the Department of Work and Pensions, said she was the first disabled person her previous company employed, and was often the first disabled person interviewers had considered for a job.

It comes just weeks after the Government was criticised by the United Nations for failing to uphold the rights of disabled people through a string of austerity policies.

An inquiry into the UK’s progress in fulfilling its commitments to a major UN convention found ministers have failed people with disabilities through a catalogue of policies in recent years, affecting a range of areas from access to healthcare to equality in education and work.

A three-year initiative by Scope and Virgin Media is hoping to tackle the barriers disabled people face getting into and staying in work, inviting members of the public, employers and Government to work together to address these issues more quickly.

Mark Atkinson, chief executive at disability charity Scope, warned that the Government was set to “fail” on its pledge to get a million more people into work, with a “huge” amount of work needed to tackle the disability employment gap.

“We have a huge amount of work to do to tackle the disability employment gap. At the current pace of change, the Government is set to fail on its pledge to get a million more-disabled people into work,” he said.

“Disabled people with all the skills to do the job are being repeatedly passed over for roles, while others are being forced to apply for jobs which they know they are overqualified for.

“Employers are missing out on the talent they badly need because they don’t have the right support in place or because of outdated attitudes towards disability.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “Almost 600,000 disabled people have entered work in the last four years. We’ve already increased the number of Disability Employment Advisors in jobcentres and our Disability Confident scheme is working directly with employers to help transform attitudes and open up their recruitment to disabled applicants.

“But we know there is more to do to ensure disabled people are able to enjoy the benefits good work can bring. That’s why we consulted through our Work and Health Green Paper and we will update on the next steps this Autumn.”

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